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Author Archives: Susan Tofte

July 15, 2013

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A History of Mr. Hooper’s Store

By Susan Tofte


Susie Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s former archivist.

Every good neighborhood has a gathering place.  For 44 years, that gathering place on Sesame Street has been Hooper’s Store.

The show’s creators wanted the set of Sesame Street to differ from other kids’ shows on television at the time.  Rather than stage the show in a clubhouse or other fantasy setting, the show’s action would take place on a realistic urban street.  Inspiration for the set came from the neighborhoods around New York City – complete with brownstones, a subway stop and a corner store.  The first season welcomed viewers into the apartments of Bert and Ernie and Susan and Gordon.  Neighbors met up on the stoop of 123 Sesame and the central gathering place for the neighborhood was Hooper’s Store.  Read More

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‘Just tell them if it’s true': Maurice Sendak and Sesame Street

By Susan Tofte


Sesame Workshop Founder Joan Ganz Cooney with Maurice Sendak

Susan Tofte is Sesame Worskhop’s Archivist.

“I don’t believe in children.  I don’t believe in childhood.  I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.  ‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that.  You mustn’t tell them that.’  You tell them anything you want.  Just tell them if it’s true.  If it’s true you tell them.”   – Maurice Sendak.

In June 1968, the staff of Children’s Television Workshop (CTW, now known as Sesame Workshop) gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a group of educators, scholars, child psychiatrists, television producers, authors, illustrators, composers, and puppeteers to determine what Sesame Street should attempt to teach in the show’s first year.  The seminars were designed to bring a diverse group of thinkers together to tackle a problem that no participant had tried to solve.  The challenge: find a way for the creative intuition needed to create a television show to work along side a deliberate objective curriculum.  The first seminar covered social, moral and affective development of children.  Among the 20 participants was writer and artist Maurice Sendak.  Instead of taking notes, Sendak doodled as the discussion of what four-year-olds understand conceptually drifted through his unconscious.  He doodled about sibling rivalry, children challenging their parents’ authority and violence on TV.  The sketches are classic Sendak – irreverent, subversive and witty.

After the seminars, Sendak’s involvement with Street continued.  He was an early member of the National Board of Advisors for CTW and consulted with Workshop founder Joan Ganz Cooney and producers on early storyboards and outlines for the show.  Some of the doodles from the seminars were used in the first promotional brochure for the Workshop.  The cover image of the booklet features a drawing of a child with a television for a head holding a Children’s Television Workshop banner.  Sendak also drew the first logo that appeared on early CTW stationary and press releases.

In addition to his work behind the scenes, Sendak contributed two animations that aired during Sesame Street’s second season.  He collaborated with Jim Henson on two animated films – writing and designing stories full of mayhem and ruckus.  “Seven Monsters,” a subversive story about a group of seven monsters wrecking havoc on a village, was turned into a storybook in 1977.  “Bumble Ardy #9”, Sendak’s best known short, is a tale of nine pigs showing up to celebrate a boy’s 9th birthday, eating birthday cake and drinking wine. The animated short was the basis for a book that was published in 2011.  It was the first book in 30 years that Sendak both wrote and illustrated and was the last book he published before his death.

It is unknown what circumstances led to Maurice Sendak’s invitation to participate in the early seminars for Sesame Street but there is no doubt that Sendak’s influence was felt during the early development of Sesame Street.  Both Sendak and the creators of Sesame Street believed that children understand a great deal more than most adults believe; that when creating content for children, one must take children seriously as children.

 

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How Sesame Street Got Its Name

By Susan Tofte


NEW! Meet the Newest Member of the Neighborhood, Armando! >>

Susan Tofte is Sesame Worskhop’s archivist.

There is a scene in the promo film for Sesame Street where ad-men type Muppets in business suits meet around a large conference table debating potential names for the show. Ridiculous titles are suggested like the Two and Two Ain’t Five Show and the Itty-Bitty, Farm-and-City, Witty-Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog-and-Kitty, Pretty-Little-Kiddie Show. Rowlf the Dog fires the entire group of Muppets and Kermit the Frog eventually comes up with the name Sesame Street. “You know, like ‘Open Sesame.’ It kind of gives the idea of a street where neat stuff happens,” he suggests. Read More

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Jackie Robinson on Sesame Street

By Susan Tofte


Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s Archivist.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

Of the hundreds of celebrities who have appeared on Sesame Street, Jackie Robinson is one of the most notable. Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney met with Robinson in 1969 when she was working to build awareness and outreach prior to the show’s November premiere. Reaching out to Robinson and his connections made sense. Read More

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March 06, 2013

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Reaching Out to the Families Who Need Sesame Most: A History

By Susan Tofte


Fire Safety, disaster recover, serious illness, healthy eating habits, and divorce. All of these topics have been covered as part of Sesame Street’s long and diverse history of outreach initiatives. When Sesame Street first aired in 1969, there were significant obstacles to Sesame Street reaching children in poor communities – the very children the show most wanted to reach. Meeting this challenge became the Workshop’s first outreach program. Read More

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February 13, 2013

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‘The Story of J': Sesame Street’s First Animation

By Susan Tofte


Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s Archivist.

It is hard to imagine Sesame Street without the delightful animations that teach things like letters, numbers, emotions and problem solving. Animations have been a part of the show since the pilot episodes. But back in 1969, the idea of using a series of short animations to act like “commercials” for letters and numbers was a true innovation.

When Joan Ganz Cooney created her proposal for an educational television show, she envisioned borrowing the techniques used in making TV commercials to help teach counting and literacy. Joan and the producers knew that kids were attracted to commercials on TV. What they didn’t know was whether they could successfully create short commercial-like segments for the show that would actually teach to the curriculum. Read More

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Rubber Duckie: the Story Behind Sesame’s Iconic Bath Time Tune

By Susan Tofte


Ed. Note: Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s Archivist.

Beginning with the iconic opening lines to “The Sesame Street Theme” that opened the first episode, music has always played a critical role in setting the educational and creative standards of Sesame Street. Early songs such as “I Love Trash,” “People In Your Neighborhood,” “Green,” “One of These Things,” and “Rubber Duckie” (just to name a few) have a memorable and timeless quality to them. Many have become classics in their own right.

Take the song “Rubber Duckie,” Ernie’s classic ode to bath time toys.  Written by Jeff Moss, the song debuted on February 25, 1970 during Sesame Street’s first season. In the skit, Ernie, performed by Jim Henson, soaks in a bath and sings the song to his very favorite little pal. When the Workshop began releasing musical content from the show on records in the summer of 1970, “Rubber Duckie” was included on the very first album. The song went on to sell more than 1 million copies as a single and reached number 11 on the Billboard chart in 1971. It was nominated for The Best Recording for Children Grammy in 1970, losing out to The Sesame Street Book and Record, which itself contained the song. Since then, the song has been included on 21 different albums released by the Workshop. Read More

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October 16, 2012

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From Paper to iPad: The Evolution of the Great Cookie Thief

By Susan Tofte


Ed. Note: Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s archivist.

How would you update a classic? Take a treasured story from one era and spruce it up for a new century’s readers?

Sesame Workshop has produced over 1200 books in a variety of formats since the early 1970s. Part of the philosophy of our publishing group is the willingness to tell stories in whatever formats will attract and reach preschoolers. Animated book apps and e-books are the most recent formats in which Sesame Street characters have come to life. For the Workshop, an eagerness to create books in emerging digital formats is tempered by the need to balance innovation with our mission of education. It is a delicate balancing act, but one that the Workshop’s publishing group has pulled off time and time again. Read More

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